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The Sound of Silence (foundersatwork.posthaven.com)
344 points by oskarth on Jan 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments



An alternative is to say things and let your friends pass them on anonymously.

Things very wise and/or experienced VCs/founders have told me which I'm sure they wouldn't publish, which I have valued very much:

* If you don't look like a stereotypical founder, you won't follow the stereotypical path; that's not a problem, it's just a difference. Pursue your dream from first principles.

* The difference between flirting and friendly is perception, not purpose - don't worry about seeming aloof and don't take it the wrong way when pursued (to a point).

* Never come out until/unless absolutely necessary. Especially not to gay men.

* Absolutely don't talk about your young children with investors, especially if the investor has children of their own.

* The other side of not being perceived as a highly technical co-founder (which I am) because of my gender/appearance is that I'm more easily seen as a people person or product owner (which I'm very much not). It's ok to take advantage of that.

* I don't look enough like a founder to get angel/seed; I should make my money as a co-founder then self-fund through series-A, which tends to work out better regardless.

* Never, ever speak at a conference/on a panel about diversity. Your online identity defines your future opportunities, and the diversity racket is awfully small.

(Many more too specific or nuanced to include here.)


Some of these make a lot of intuitive sense, but I have questions about others.

What is the consequence of coming out to gay men? What counts as absolutely necessary?

How much of a role does flirting play in the business dealings of founders?


> What is the consequence of coming out to gay men?

Out gay people are both more likely to out someone and more likely to have complicated feelings about others preferring not to be outed.

> What counts as absolutely necessary?

It's always better to come out than be outed.

> How much of a role does flirting play in the business dealings of founders?

Ideally none. Unfortunately when you're a woman in her 20's courting men in their 30's as investors, the rituals often overlap with romantic overture. (suggesting coffee, discussing deals/valuation over dinner, feigning interest in their opinion or soliciting advice, grooming, etc.) The point is not that it's ok to flirt, the point is that it's ok (and not your fault) to be perceived as flirting. Too many female entrepreneurs avoid approaching male VCs because they're afraid of being misinterpreted.


If you are feigning interest the opinion of an investor, you are probably doing it wrong.

Your broad point is a good one, and I'll note it is not completely asymmetric by gender either. Anyone with functional communication skills should be able to resolve this potential for misinterpretation fairly early and painlessly.


How are you supposed to sell to people who feel you don't give a damn about their opinion?


Your comment's parent is more nuanced. A surplus of attention signals desperation, and ends up undermining your efforts. There's a fine line.


Perhaps you aren't. That isn't the only alternative on offer.


Huh, why wouldn't you talk about young children with investors, esp if they have some themselves?


A possible explanation is that those who have children know that they take quite a lot of attention/focus.


but those who have children also know (more than people without children) that having children didn't stop them from achieving their success


This assumes they had kids before becoming a success. What about the people who achieved success first, and then had kids? They might believe the exact opposite.

And if you're a partner at a VC firm with toddlers, it's quite likely you did things in that order.


This is the reasoning.

It's enormously exacerbated for female founders with young children. And God forbid you be pregnant or planning to have more.


Of course, it's an entirely reasonable thing to think.

A good parent spends more time with their children than anything else.

And I've dropped the ball on work stuff when I had more important life stuff to handle.

And I'd skip using some contracting firm (or anyone/thing else) if I thought they'd take off for greener pastures as soon as they found a better client.

Combine those things and nobody reasonable will enter into a critical deal with a new/upcoming parent where that person is in the critical path. It's not PC to say this, but you'd be a fool to discount it. And If that person doesn't prioritize their children you probably don't want to deal with them simply because of that.

fwiw, the same logic applies to anyone with any non-business focus that outweighs their business focus. From cancer to marathon running. This is your life too and blowing your chances on misguided charity doesn't let you take the time to raise your children or nurture your sick spouse.


> A good parent spends more time with their children than anything else.

This isn't necessarily true. However, sleep deprivation (rather than actual hours spent with the kids) is a big problem.


imho, one thought I've heard is to avoid having a personal relationship until after the professional relationship is successful. One possibility is if the investor and entrepreneur are parents, they are not on equal footing or capability, and being parent's shouldn't be used to somehow compromise, blur, or bend the professional relationship by either side. I've had friendships come out of successful professional relationships, but putting friendship before doing the work is a bit harder.


I am highly entertained by the amount of discussion/nitpicking I'm seeing in this thread. It's a perfect example of the article's core point.


A great line from TFA:

"I don't have time to fight with people who are trying to misunderstand me."


[flagged]


It's not OK to attack other users like this on Hacker News. Please stop.


The startup ecosystem is still majority vindictively anti-diversity? That's sad.


It's a tiny minority with a higher-order impact:

* A small subset of the startup ecosystem is implicitly/explicitly biased.

* A larger subset of the startup ecosystem recognizes that fact, and won't invest in diverse founders (all things being equal) because of the additional hurdles we have to clear.

* Everyone else knows that some people are cautious about funding diversity because some people are biased.

That first tiny percentage has the devil's own leverage.


I have also heard roughly the opposite model, namely:

1. A small subset of the startup ecosystem wants to fund diverse founders, and is willing to compromise on startup quality to do so.

2. A larger subset of the startup ecosystem recognizes that fact, and won't invest in diverse founders (all things being equal) because they are worse due to group #1 funding worse companies.

3. Everyone else knows about #1 and #2, and so are cautious about funding diversity.

I'm curious if you have considered this way of looking at the world, and know of any data that would let me conclude it was less accurate than the version you outlined above.


In my personal experience people are far more eager to pay lip service to diversity than dollars.

Though since both hypotheses support the same conclusion I'm not sure it matters which is correct.


There are other conclusions and interpretations you can draw from the two lines of reasoning. Much of the effectiveness of dog-whistle politics is that most of what's said remain non-explicit, so let me pop that:

The reasoning that there is a small group who would refuse to fund nonwhites/women, and that has an knock-on effect on everybody else suggests:

-that there is a 'culture of racism/mysogyny'

-that we need more diversity training

-that we need to move the overton window to exclude those people with the unacceptable views (and we should do so via diversity training)

-that we need to spend money to fund the people to make the above happen.

OTOH, the reasoning that many startups lead by nonwhites and/or women got seed-funding via affirmative action despite not being strong enough to get funded on a level playground, leading to lower average quality, leading to warier investors and difficulty attracting further funding suggests:

- that there is no 'culture of racism/mysogyny', just people being rational with their money.

- that we need to wind back the irrational AA money that is distorting the market and wasting its investors' money

- that 'diversity training' is not the answer and possibly counterproductive.

-that the overton window is either fine where it is, or could be moved a bit the other way.

It is unfortunate that there is so much attached here, and I'm fairly sure most of those things are not the intended interpretations by the posters, but you can see how this is a very baggage laiden discussion. Partially it's because it echoes many, many similar discussions elsewhere, and many of those previous discussions made many people very angry at each other.


The business case for diversity is not that "it would be nice to have it", it's the McKinsey study that diverse companies consistently outperform homogenous ones.

So in the end investors who resist diversity miss out on some runaway successes.


From Peter Thiel (http://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiel-google-monopoly-2...):

> Google's motto — "Don't be evil" — is in part a branding play, but it's also characteristic of a kind of business that's successful enough to take ethics seriously without jeopardizing its own existence.

> Monopolists can afford to think about things other than making money; non-monopolists can't. In perfect competition, a business is so focused on today's margins that it can't possibly plan for a long-term future. Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits.

The McKinsey study (at least to my reading[1]) establishes correlation, not causation. It could well be the other way around, ie: basically everyone agrees that diversity is an ethically good thing... so perhaps profitable companies are more diverse because they can afford to be, rather than being more profitable because they're diverse.

This seems falsifiable btw... we could brainstorm perks that companies offer when they're doing well, and see how closely the correlation there matches McKinsey's observed 35% overperformance.

[1] From the summary at http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-... - The pdf is behind a paywall, sadly.


You make a very good point, and my problem with McKinsey study was its bundling of various industries without subsequent breakdown by field. While it seems natural that customer-facing enterprises benefit from diversity (sales people, nurses, customer support), where a customer might seek out a familiar face, the analogy seems to stretch when you stretch it to other areas (tractor manufacturing, winemaking, etc.)

P.S. The McKinsey article is behind a wall, not paywall, just a registered account with mckinsey.com


I'm not a native speaker. What does "devil's own leverage" mean in this context? I don't think it's an idiom. Do you mean that their behaviour is what drives everybody else's?


In this context, it just means "very strong". The idea is that biased investors have a lot of leverage, despite being a minority, because of the environment they're in. So yes, it's that their behavior is driving everyone else's.


That can be seen as a positive thing - it's hard to make money as an investor in this ecosystem by just following the groupthink, therefore the contrarians stand to make the most money.


if the diversity racket is so small why does it seem so many have built their careers on it?


> if the diversity racket is so small why does it seem so many have built their careers on it?

Perhaps because the diversity racket is in some way related to the group of people causing Jessica to avoid sharing thoughts online? If you can silence all the people not in your group, your group's size will appear a lot larger than it really is.


How many chief diversity officers do you see cruising through the mission in their new Teslas?

Visibility equals neither impact nor income.


It's not a career, it's a gig.

Example of a gig being a paid appearance on TV as a talking head proffering some expertise - you have to make enough noise for people to remember you and the need for your services. Compare that to a career of someone like a nurse or airline pilot - they sure are welcome to go to nursing and airline conferences to remind people about importance of nursing and air travel as well as discuss the current issues facing both fields (sometimes even on TV), but it's not a requirement to keep collecting a paycheck.


I had a philosophy professor once who was very upset after she'd graded our papers on Plato's Republic.

She gripped the lectern and looked at the floor for a few seconds sadly.

She looked up.

"What happened here, guys? You're all so smart. This was a real let-down. No, the Republic is not a sacred text. No, we're not here to worship it. But there's also such a thing as employing the critical spirit in the wrong way. We're here to understand this book, to engage with its ideas seriously, not to tear it apart without thought to feel superior."

"Again, this is not an object of worship. But this book has been preserved for 2500 years by human beings, most of whom had to copy each page by hand. A long chain of brilliant people from across generations worked to put this paperback in your hand. They did this in part because they thought it was worth the effort of preserving it for you. If, after a minute or two of thought, we find a glaring flaw that makes Plato looks like a blithering idiot, it would be wise to examine our critique in a spirit of humility. Without humility and charity, it's impossible to learn anything."

"After we've understood, then we can critique."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity

This idea is equally valuable outside the context of interpreting philosophical texts.

Everything she said is unfashionable, not only in academia but in public life. Political entertainers earn their keep by deliberately distorting their opponents' arguments with easy mockery. A lot of social media reward mindless criticism.

But the most productive, insightful online communities have some element of exclusion and some punishments (karma, banning, etc.) for repeated violations of the principle of charity.


One of my philosophy professors called that "doing it MIT-style." In essence, argue against the best possible form of an idea rather than the imperfect form in front of you.


I've also heard this referred to as "steel-manning," as opposed to "straw-manning."


What she said is absolutely not unfashionable in the academic areas I am most familiar with. Much the converse in fact.

Public life, I'll give you.


Thanks for the story. Now that you mention it, I realize it illustrates the main reason I don't comment much (and why I'm annoyed by the majority of comments on popular websites, where commenting anything is more valuable than commenting smartly).


People are starting to realize (en masse now), this is the downside of permitting group identity-based "discussions" to flourish. Whatever you say, people are going to try interpreting it against the group you are perceived to belong to, eagerly pouncing on things that are in "conflict" with their own group identity. I put conflict in quotes here because this ultimately empty conflict is what actually drives both sides. Facts and open discussion are utterly irrelevant in this process, instead your words just get parsed for trigger phrases.

There is an argument to be made that internet discussions have always been at risk, and I think it's indeed a known pathology. However, subjectively, it seems to me this has escalated in a massive way within the last two years - to the point that important issues have effectively been taken off the discussion table because the participant pool is entirely made up of people fighting content-free meme wars.

In my opinion, the only way to combat this is to violate the rules of these meme wars and start talking about content again. But I wouldn't recommend it for high profile personalities whose job entails getting along with as many people as possible, because the fears of backlash are absolutely justified even if you might garner more respect this way in the long term. Worse yet, once a discussion has been taken over by mindless reactions like this, it becomes very difficult to form your own opinion rationally because it involves separating what the memes want of you from whatever the facts and your internal thoughts say.

As a rule of thumb: if both parties are angry at you, you're on the right track.

Personally I think the current state of things is either unsustainable, meaning the group identity thing is going to burn itself out over time, or it's a new low-energy state as far as human thought process goes which means it's going to be permanent. Either way, at least some influential people need to fight this, even if it means you'll be perceived as having rough edges.


> As a rule of thumb: if both parties are angry at you, you're on the right track.

No; this is an excuse to pat yourself on the back for being contrary. Don't validate your beliefs by how much they make others angry, any more than you validate them by how much they make others happy.

> the group identity thing

Group identity and culture wars are not new (and are certainly not going away). It's plausible to me that the internet is making this worse - a premise of your post - but I'm not yet convinced. It's possible they're merely coincident. What concrete reasons are there to believe the internet is a primary cause of today's increasingly vitriolic culture wars, rather than merely a new venue in which they are being pursued?


Not sure how to reply to this, it seems I certainly failed to get the point across here.

> No; this is an excuse to pat yourself on the back for being contrary. Don't validate your beliefs by how much they make others angry

That was absolutely not what I intended to say with this admittedly tongue-in-cheek quip. There is a kernel of (subjective) truth in there though: if you find yourself agreeing with one side of a meme war 100% on everything, it's most likely time to rethink some assumptions. Conversely, if you're not agreeing wholesale, you just have a target on your back, that's a given. So I could have worded that better, it doesn't have anything to do with being contrarian for the sake of causing offense.

> Group identity and culture wars are not new (and are certainly not going away).

I thought I addressed that. Again, I probably worded it too obtusely.


In defense of your quip, if I get called both a misogynist and a radfem for the same opinion, I can fairly reliably expect that over the subsequent few days I'll get a number of people with moderate opinions contacting me privately to thank me for saying what they were thinking but were too scared of internet shitstorms to post publically.


There is danger in the middle ground as well, though. Many middle grounds are factually incorrect, for example between evolutionists and people who believe god put fossils underground to troll archaeologists.

Further, as a strategy it is exploitable: say you have opinion X and I want you at X+1. I can manipulate you by loudly proclaiming X+2.

tl;dr: there are no easy heuristics here. Treat the entire communication environment as hostile and manipulative, form your opinions with great care, and double check all your sources.


I find it highly unlikely that Jessica was referring to being unable to say publically that evolution is a real thing.

Additionally, I said that, having already formed my opinion X, if I get that response, I can predict certain things. This is very different from your 'exploit' which requires the reverse process.

I'm afraid you've provided cogent and valid criticisms of a completely different set of statements than I actually made.


I enjoy that you had the courage to bring "factually incorrect" into this conversation.

If someone, anyone, goes looking for the facts, there is only one destination in which they will end up. The facts aren't hard to find. They are all in boring science textbooks. But nobody reads those anymore.

The current culture war is waged by those who profit off ignorance against those who crusade for truth. You may think this is a black and white view of it, but it isn't. One side wishes to obliterate facts, the other wishes to incinerate pretty lies at the expense of hurt feelings.

So yes, there are a great many positions that are factually incorrect. All of them, to be exact, except the factually correct ones.

The problem of course is that facts can be inconvenient to those who seek power.


> That was absolutely not what I intended to say with this admittedly tongue-in-cheek quip.

Thank you for clarifying.

> There is a kernel of (subjective) truth in there though: if you find yourself agreeing with one side of a meme war 100% on everything, it's most likely time to rethink some assumptions.

Yes. But "you're probably wrong if you agree with anyone completely" and "you're probably right if you disagree with most people" are very different.

> > Group identity and culture wars are not new (and are certainly not going away).

> I thought I addressed that.

I think here it's me who has been unclear. That was just an introductory remark. The substance of that part of my comment was to wonder whether the internet is really what's been exacerbating the current culture wars and factionalism, or if it's just coincidental. I still don't feel confident either way on that question.


The printing press seems to have been a prime cause of the Protestant Reformation with its attendant wars. Years ago a friend predicted to me that social media would increase conflict analogously. I'm not sure he was right, but clearly events have gone in the right direction.


Given that the 20th century is the century of genocide, it seems less than certain that the long term trend is "increasingly vitriolic".


The 20th century isn't the century of genocide; it's the century of media covered genocide.


This is true. It does seem, however, like that is the short-term trend of the last decade or three. Things don't have to be as bad as the mid 20th century to be worrying.


We always have nukes


"As a rule of thumb: if both parties are angry at you, you're on the right track."

That's the same fallacy as saying "The truth is somewhere in between". If everybody is angry at you, maybe you just said something universally stupid. Or maybe you were right. You can't make this a rule.


Perhaps expands to "in a world where anger is a proxy for nonconformance, and where even nuance is nonconformance, and if nuance is good because reality is not two sided, then having people angry at you is indicative of maturity in an immature world".

There's a lot to disagree with there, probably mostly around two sided-ness though there's mostly a lack of tech in meme wars, they haven't figured out how to make smaller groups and dynamically manage them effectively. I know that nuance as a sign of maturity is also directly under attack and that there's no apriori way to justify it.


I addressed this in the other comment. It was a shitty way to convey a slightly different point. Sorry about that.


It's fine. It's a rule of thumb -- the very phrase you used -- not an absolute.


The logical complement is more reasonable: "If everyone is happy with you you're likely doing things wrong."

And the more general: "If idiots are happy with you, you're likely an idiot too - or just acting like one."


I think both of these can't be generalized . Sometimes they are true, sometimes not.


I generally agree, but would suggest amending "permitting group identity-based 'discussion' to flourish." The issue IMO, is not the activity of the discussion, but the impoverished shortcut of identity as a classification. My apologies if this is what you intended. It came out to me as if the discussion were to be avoided, rather than the lens of identity.

All "identities" are crude prejudice. They're a pair of glasses we put on to try to perceive things a certain way. This is an artifact of "Motivated Reasoning." Anticipating someone's vote based on their melanin is harmful and self-defeating in the long run. As you say, we should discuss content, or "issues." Instead of negating everything e.g. YouKnowWho does, we need to debate each bill on its own merit.


To your point about online discussions, it's made worse by most websites getting rid of usernames, and replacing them with your real name.

Or worse even, they use a Facebook discussion plugin, so whatever you say is attached to your Facebook account.


How is that? I thought that adding a potential reputation cost to discussion actually helped curb anonymous trolling.


It curbs privacy and the ability to explore controversial ideas. As Facebook shows, there are more than plenty non-anonymous trolls.


it also makes it easier to associate views with someone, whether they want those views known outside of a smaller group or not.


It curbs privacy and the ability to explore controversial ideas.


It's possible that the actual effect is to limit discussion to those who don't care about their reputation.


We live in the "call out culture" and, ironically, it's how Donald Trump gained so much momentum. People have reacted to this by staying silent instead of explicitly stating their views publicly and creating conversations, opportunities for learning, and ideation.

In this Brown Political review article [0], the author states

> Furthermore, calling-out non-influential figures and handing them the spotlight in the process gives other individuals incentive to make controversial statements of their own. In other words, if someone is desperate enough for attention, even if it’s negative, they might see that saying or doing something blatantly hateful can garner the publicity they crave. It’s the same concept the has boosted Trump and Carson campaigns (to different levels of effectiveness) this election cycle; that is, using controversy and outrage to get their names out there and increase their visibility in the media and public eye.

There is a good study of a case of a (now) popular misogynistic and homophobic YouTube user that actually tripled his viewership as a result of protests on social media about him holding a meeting in their town.

I personally do not "fear" callout culture, but I also realize that the things I put out there on the internet have consequences that I would rather avoid. And like the article states, I am in no position of power.

[0]: http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2016/05/26760/


"We live in the "call out culture" and, ironically, it's how Donald Trump gained so much momentum. People have reacted to this by staying silent instead of explicitly stating their views publicly and creating conversations, opportunities for learning, and ideation."

Of course, let's also not forget that there is a culture that has made a point of shouting down contrarian or critical viewpoints when a discussion could be initiated.

Worried that perhaps some vaccinations are unnecessary? You're a stupid anti-vaxxer.

Critical of environmental science methodology? You're a climate change denier (and probably in the pocket of Big Oil).

Not a fan of how Black Lives Matter conducts some of their protests, or perhaps you think that using ID to combat potential voter fraud is a valid idea? You're a racist.

Not a supporter of a specific presidential candidate? Well, it's probably because you're a misogynist...and there's a good chance you're rather deplorable as well.

That's a good part of why people have stayed silent: they're demonized before a conversation can begin. It's not necessarily because they didn't want to have a conversation.


There's a difference between " shouting down contrarian or critical viewpoints when a discussion could be initiated" and "shouting down people who are rehashing tired old arguments that looks exactly the same as the arguments put forth by people who are already known to be operating in bad faith"


I would counter that a) perhaps some parties don't know that they're using "tired old arguments" (if it is new to them) and b) the "bad faith" may be assumed, rather than known.

If you're being shouted down, regardless of why one party thinks you should be shouted down, your worldview and opinion of the opposite party will be strongly affected.


Willing to negotiate on immigration? You're "pandering in the name of a solution" and your bill "effectively wipes out the Republican Party."


> It’s the same concept the has boosted Trump and Carson campaigns

I don't think its a coincidence that Donald Trump, a name half of America recognized before the election, won the election while Ben Carson, an unknown before the election, didn't make it past the primaries and received less than 3% of republican vote.

And if I'm right, this completely contradicts your article's thesis: Trump got the attention because he was already famous and known, not what he was saying. The general election also supports this.


It's not the overarching thesis of the paper, but expanding on one of the points it is trying to make about the dangers of call-out culture with a reliable conjecture about the rise of Trump. The article states it worked to varying levels of effectiveness for Trump and Carson. Carson received more recognition than he ever had prior to riding the coat-tails of this call out culture, and playing the contrarian (in my opinion). You can look at it this way: a neurosurgeon with no political experience and a murky past won 9% of the republican primaries, ahead of establishment candidates such as Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum. The mistake was placing his name next to Trump when comparing the effectiveness of this phenomena, because Trump is the ultimate representation, but it was extremely effective for Carson as well.


I don't see why it's ironic. Call out culture has been a staple of the right for decades now, which is not to say it doesn't happen on the left as well. RINO dates back to the 90s, and that's just the most recent version.


Call out culture's effect is multiplied by social media. And I am not sure that it was the norm in the 90s. Most people were raised with the values that you minded your own business, often too far that way.

Well, ole Jim Bob got to drinkin' and Sally done got a black eye again

Now honey you know better than to going around and snoopin' in other people's business

That was the culture up until lately, and even if it was present earlier, it certainly didn't have the consequences (good or bad) as it does now.


As a temporary fix, (and I emphasize, this is not a solution) the answer might be to have a 'pen name' or 'pen personality' . mini-msft is the classical example in our industry.

If Jessica were to venture a 'twistable' opinion, sure there will be a huge uproar, because of her association with YC. If this is published under a fake persona,Jess McFake, someone who can be identified only by a body of writing, then it is hard to bring these prejudices, and even if it is "twisted" who cares?

I do this to some extent by having multiple online personas, none of which have my real name associated with this, one for each 'community' I participate in,(not true for HN, fwiw) and I find this very useful and liberating, and I'm nobody. I'd be surprised if 'celebrities' don't do something like this already.

Of course if you are as rich as (and so untouchable) as, say, Peter Thiel, you can just go ahead and express what you want wherever you want and don't give a damn if you are misinterpreted and/or out of synch with particular orthodoxies, but for the rest of us, this might work as a temporary fix.


This seems like a reasonable idea, but I don't think it can last indefinitely. You will almost certainly reveal something that will allow someone to unmask you eventually, regardless of how careful you are.

Startup L. Jackson is a great example: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-17/unmasking...


Pen names have a long and glorious tradition in calling out authority figures in the US. From Silence Dogood to Mark Twain to Raoul Duke. The words on the page are to be the focus, not the person composing them, so to speak.


I have the fake personas too, and it works, but if I were all fired-up to say something "as myself" on the internet (I'm not, particularly) then I wouldn't wait until I'm as rich as Thiel. You just need to be living off the interest on your capital investments, so that your income isn't dependent on people liking you. That happens a lot sooner if you're good at saving money.


The problem is that the "oomph" of the message and ability to spread it is lost for largely the same reasons. Jessica worked for a long time to get the ears of so many people. A pen name is far more likely to get lost in the noise or have its credibility called into question.



The problem she talks about is nuanced.

One the one hand, any opinionated information will upset some portion of the public, the internet just makes it more visible to you. From that perspective, maybe the solution is to exert better self-control and stay off twitter, not google yourself, and care less about imaginary internet karma points.

Her ask for compassion is coming from a sincere place. I think however the real long term answer is to examine how rules of the forum incentivize certain types discussion (twitter=outrage, youtube=insults, facebook=food pictures & generic upbeat life-observations, reddit=jokes, news.yc=thougtful comments, buzzfeed/tech-crunch/whatever=unreadable linkbait).

Another way to look at this, is that these famous people get something from public validation. In a sense, it's a trade of inside information for public validation. If she really just wanted to get the word out there, she could do what the rest of us do, post on a throwaway account, losing the karma points, losing the automatic boost by posting as a famous person, and see if her ideas are packaged well enough to rise to the top.

The thing that's slightly offputting to me is that I get a sense that a lot of these public figures actually are not as right as they seem to think. For example, I'd bet 5 grand that if I could talk to PG for a day about the things he's blogged about, I could change his mind on at least one of them. Yet at the same time I think he was quite troubled when he posted his 1%-money piece and people were outraged.

There's really a lot to this discussion.


This touches on the topic of projection. You are never who you actually are, to another person. You are just a blank, upon which they'll project all their own questions, fears, priorities and pet issues. If you're insecure about money you'll say "Damn that richypants Jessica and her sanctimonious blablabla." If you're preoccupied with race you'll say "Typical that a privileged white lady says so and so." If gender is your thing you'll either say "It's so empowering to see a woman blablabla" or "The nerve of this evil harpy blablabla," depending. Do any of these various horseshit interpretations represent the real Jessica?

So no, a lot of people decide it's not worth it, to be everybody's projection target. And contrary to one of her points, I don't think it's any great tragedy. It's only the stupid internet, remember! What unites people in real friendship is long-term shared tangible interest, of a type that is all but gone from public life in America except maybe in the smallest, supposedly most "backward" farming towns.


This touches on the topic of reductivism.


> How do we solve this problem? I don't know, but I hope there is a solution.

Two solutions I can think of:

(a) private, close-knit communities, i.e. not HN.

(b) new norms developing to judge people's action in a specific domain based on actions in that specific domain, i.e. Jessica Livingston qua startup investor, not qua x-ist or proponent of y-ology or whatever. Of course, this goes against the very idea of identity politics, where the whole point seems to be to couple every person with their (supposed) political views, i.e. humans qua politicians.

One thing you realize with that second frame is that most people, Y.T. included in this thread, are not acting in capacity of anything. One might call us "qua randoms", spouting opinion without skin in the game (assuming it isn't qua friend, etc).


If the problem is "too much downside in being distracted by people's opinions about my opinions", some options would seem to be:

* publish anonymously, putting the ideas in the discourse, albeit without them getting the signal boost of one's reputation.

* publish them in a format, such as a book, where you can explain them in such detail that you can ignore people misinterpretations, satisfied that you have explained everything to the best of your ability, and you don't have to worry about people's misinterpretations. This seems a lot of effort, and it's hardly certain one would succeed.

* It's unclear if the problem is that people will misinterpret across the universe of social and traditional media (which seems unsolvable) or simply within a particular forum in which the idea is shared. If it's merely within a particular forum, then one could have a private secretary (or sufficiently advanced AI, or grad student, or friend) cull through the comments for interesting responses, saving you the burden of looking at the rest.

* If, as is hypothesized, the successful are full of ideas that it would be a burden to share, presumably a credible third party could collect and publish these ideas. Politico, for example, had a panel of insiders from both parties who gave their impressions on the presidential campaign, with quotes not being attributed to any particular panelist.

*If misinterpretation comes from people "shooting from the hip" because posting first is rewarded, one partial mitigation might be putting replies in a lockbox and, say, displaying them after 8 hours, with the replies with certain characteristics (longer, more complicated sentence structure, less inflammatory words) being displayed more prominently. At that point more interactive commenter to commenter exchanges could begin.


Just searched for the meaning of "qua" and it seems you are using it as "as" (so "humans as politicians"). Just wanted to add it here in case others also don't have a clue what "qua" means.


Should've added that, thanks. It means more than just "as", it also means "in the capacity of", for which there's in my opinion no good english substitute. It comes from Aristotle (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-mathematics/#7....), but there are also somewhat similar strains of thought in confucianism, usually in a more prescriptive manner (how to be an X to a Y).


The problem with (b) is that when I empower or support somebody in one context, they receive a platform in which to influence people in other contexts. As an example, a famous actor will have some degree of media reach in which to push their political views, support of a charity, or whatever else.

Especially when I support someone monetarily, they are able to spend that money on things that I find abhorrent, and use that money to buy influence, even if I'm supporting them because of a product or piece of art. I think I'd be ethically liable if I knowingly gave a significant chunk of money to somebody who I knew would later use it to influence people towards harming others.


Money is usually earmarked for specific purposes. If you buy a movie cause you think one of the actors in it is good you are supporting that movie. The person playing the part may become rich and do things you "disagree" with, but so what? That's life and human freedom for you; you can't control everything. You are paying for a movie and encouraging them to make more movies. If they are breaking laws qua citizen or being a bad friend, that'll sort itself out.

Of course you are free to boycott them if you so wish, but boy do you need to boycott a lot of people if you apply this strictly. There are other systems in place to take care of this, which may or may not require additional work (such as justice system not being as strict with rich people), but that's a separate question.


If somebody told me "hey, I'm going to buy a gun and murder someone - would you like to buy my new album?" I would certainly say no. I don't see why it's any different when the consequences are abstracted a little.

No, I can't save the world on my own, and nor can anyone. I've done a good many things which have directly and indirectly resulted in harm towards others, because I need to in order to survive in today's society. But that's not the point - the point is to build an ethical framework in which we can aim towards intentionally enabling less harm, even if we can't ensure no harm.


You can choose to build whatever ethical framework you want for yourself. I personally prefer simple, robust principles or an "ethical framework" that doesn't require me to know or worry about every minute detail about everyone I intentionally or unintentionally "support". I wouldn't be able to get to work in the morning if I cared about what my neighbors were up to.

In more realistic examples than the one outlined I believe it's almost always the case that:

(a) people are doing a bad job qua something, such as journalists not having journalistic standards, etc, or

(b) people judging someone outside of their "known" domain almost always over-react and misunderstand (see witch hunts for people that should be dealt properly by, say, the justice system). I.e. the side effects are generally more harmful, at least if you impose it on others.


Unfortunately, life is hard, and if someone cares deeply about reducing harm in the world, it's harder still. You can very much choose to not care about people outside your close family, but that's not how I wish to live, and aside from as a mental defence mechanism against having to think about the horrors that people go through every day and how the system they're forced to take part in supports those horrors, I don't understand why other people would want to live that way.


You completely missed my point and somehow turned yourself into a hero for supposedly caring about all these little harms that no one else cares about (while still having to earn a living, of course). Thanks for putting words into my mouth that I never said. Classic empty virtue signaling.

(I should follow my own rule of never replying to my own thread outside of simple questions. It always bites me. Especially ironic how all the points in OP and my original comment applies to this thread.)


"hey, I'm going to buy a gun and murder someone - would you like to buy my new album?"

Sounds like the value proposition of white power music, or some rap.


Wow, this is a great post. It feels like it is getting harder to have a rational argument/discussion online and social media. The default mode is silence for most rational people - and we need to fix this.

I wonder if there's a tech solution to this.


I don't think it's a tech problem so much as it is a design/culture problem.

If you look at the most popular forms of social media and what is considered popular, you see that low effort content is what draws the most views and reactions. Low effort content being images, 140 character quips, so on and so forth. The most popular social media sites are either geared specifically around these forms of communication (instagram, twitter, imgur, etc), or are dominated by such forms of content (reddit). The reasons why these forms of content are so popular are well understood so I won't waste time on it.

The issue that arises when these forms of low effort content dominate is that they start changing the way people think and act. The mind will adapt to the space that it lives in. In other words, if you talk in 140 characters frequently, you are going to start thinking in 140 characters. That being said, this is not to say social media has somehow created a problem that didn't exist before. People are rationalizing animals not rational animals. I'm saying that social media is making the problem worse and creating a dominant meta where low effort content succeeds and reinforces its own success by creating patterns of thought through the designs they are built around. The fact that Twitter has become a dominant form of political discourse should speak volumes about the mess things are right now.

My feeling on this is that the current landscape is akin to us discovering alcohol for the first time: we haven't adapted the right cultural norms to deal with this sort of technology yet. The current situation can be thought of as us trying to figure out the rules of the road. I think the best path forward is to not speak out against groups, but against behaviors that are muddying the water in all groups right now.


I think part of the problem is that many online discussion places (e.g. twitter, facebook, reddit, HN) implicitly reward people who 'react quickly' and who 'lead' (make 'root comments') over those that 'participate' (make a 'third-level comment', just for a random example).

On reacting quickly: in my experience, if you're among the first few to either make a 'root comment' to some post (on a medium like reddit or HN) you're much more likely to receive a large number of votes, positive or negative. And if you have even a slight preference for social validation, you'll play to the crowd by posting an agreeable meme or some variation. And the same goes for those who can quickly post the popular counter-meme as a second-level comment if all the first-level slots are taken. And bam, same old meme-based conversation plays out for the millionth time.

On participating: If you nest any further down than second-level comments, you tend to receive no reaction. No votes and often no replies, so it feels like you're talking to no-one (and you've just wasted a bunch of effort). And it's not that you care about chasing imaginary internet points; you care about receiving feedback that your comment has at least been read by a large audience. I suspect people who don't care about the latter are more likely to write in their diary. Consequently, the discussion can often lack depth.

So: rewards for 'quick reactors' + no incentive to add depth == shallow, pandering to the crowd comments.

I think it's something to do with the time-sensitive nature of these forms of discussion. Perhaps one solution would be to somehow mess with the interval between hitting the 'reply' button and when that reply actually appears.


Private communities?


I don't think that private communities provide the solution. They seem like a good idea. But I think they would just turn into self agreeing echo chambers.


"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."

It's also amazing what you can say if you don't care who's attributed. Anonymity or pseudonymity can be of great value here.

For someone of Livingston's stature, writing under a pseudonym may not seem as attractive an option. When sharing anything really valuable, via a pseudonym, there's no opportunity to leverage existing audiences, or build reputational equity for your 'true name'. And for the already-prominent, if a pseudonym is later pierced the blowback can be larger. So why not spend your time and words elsewhere, either on safe topics, or only sharing 'dangerous' thoughts privately?

Thus Livingston mentions, in her footnotes, increased sharing in controlled environments with trusted associates – as on Facebook. But most people may find pseudonymity the best strategy for collecting the benefits of freer, more honest speech.

I even suspect that a "right to create uncorrelated secondary identities" may be a crucial 21st-century freedom, worthy of encoding in law and custom.


There are online communities where this happens. Generally, there is some barrier to entry that is merit based and the communities promote cultures of acceptance rather than "correctedness." This usually means that size is somewhat small and that moderation is swift, effective but fair. Some examples of communities like this are everything2 and tagpro.

Essentially, HN is particularly bad at this because a lot of comments on here sound like that programmer who thinks that they're right and so naive that they believe anything they disagree with to be lies. There is no proof that the people commenting have any merit and their reputation is not on the line with their comment.

I'm not really sure that a large, easily accessible community with minimal moderation could ever have quality discussion. Those conditions produce commenters with little reason to be responsible with their words.


MetaFilter is one example, where users pay a small upfront join fee, $5 I think.


Stack Exchange?


I totally agree with the article and I think that the great short-circuit here is that the same people that will mis-interpret this and say "it is terrible to see her silenced" (which is not what she says) are for the most part the people that over-react when certain topics are taken, that is ultimately why Jessica does not feel like to share certain things.


I also agree with her and have had similar instances in my life where I chose to be silent.

My interpretation of this silence is an evaluation of opportunity cost. I choose to be silent even though I might have something to say because I value the time saved avoiding a pissing match by forgoing any benefit of speaking my mind.

I might be totally missing the mark on her intended meaning. Regardless of my interpretation, it is pretty disheartening that advancements in various areas can be stalled due to people reacting (read wanting to be offended) rather than listening, processing and engaging.


> which is not what she says

It's not? Are you using some overly-strict definition of 'silenced' here?


She is clearly saying she is not speaking because it's not worth it, not because she could not or is afraid of speaking.


If I understand you correctly, you interpret her post as saying: a powerful person is not afraid of others silencing them, but the cost/benefit analysis of sharing ideas out in the open tends towards the negative. For ideas she feels strongly about, she is not afraid to speak up; but for useful information shared in the spirit of openness, why invite the hassle?

I've seen this sentiment expressed often by prominent maintainers of open source projects, where they feel that their effort often leads to too much stress and negativity. Why bother with that, if you can just as well find a regular job that doesn't impact your personal life in a negative way? At some point, the passion of conviction gives way to the banality of everyday comfort.


If she is not speaking because of an external factor, she has been silenced.


"Silence" is in the title, and she is put into that state because of how other people react. There's nothing wrong with using the verb form of the word. Doing so does not imply fear.

I don't understand why you made that post after, in another thread, saying jmduke shouldn't have interpreted "silenced" that way.


> "Silence" is in the title

Silence as a noun and silence as a verb are very different things. I'm sitting silent right now, but it's not because I've been bound and gagged.


I think the distinction here is framing it as a specific, individual injustice to be fought against, rather than an unfortunate symptom of certain complex dynamics in our society.

It seems to me that the former is the less useful mode of analysis for long-term problem solving.


I'm reading this and thinking yes.. YES.. I recognise the phenomenon she's describing, I see a lot of downside in online discussion.. and then:

> One reason I have hope for a solution is that I do find I can speak more openly on Facebook than elsewhere, so maybe that’s a clue about what direction social media 2.0 might take.

:(


Well that makes sense because if (big IF) you are wise enough to select your Facebook friends from people you actually know and you actually like, this will mimic much closely having a offline discussion, just using a media that can reach more people. For instance most of my Facebook friends are people which I interact with in the real world.


Maybe a friend limit ? That would make people think more about who they have. I wonder what sort of effect that would have.


This has been explored in many places, like path. It has yet to stick.


It is also easy to confine yourself in a bubble with this approach. It is possible to avoid it, but very hard.


To know that Jessica Livingston has experienced this and feels this way is extra disheartening.


To me, it's extra empowering.

Who better to share, "You are not alone."


I'm of two minds here. I certainly sympathize with the fear that people out there on the Internet will misinterpret what you've said and bash you for it in ways that are inappropriate. There are really two separate dynamics, though: one is that people may twist your words. The other, that gets less attention, is that perhaps we should build a discourse that is more tolerant of mistakes.

For example: racism is bad. A good person should try not to be racist (to say the least). But maybe, as a part of recognizing our own human limitations and pervasive reach of racist thinking, we should accept that even otherwise admirable people sometimes fall prey to it, and temper our reactions accordingly. Perhaps we've uncritically allowed our hard work towards greater awareness of these sorts of moral mistakes to result in a constant ratcheting-up of the opprobrium that they invite.

Here, the problem with complaining, in the abstract, about the fear of having your words twisted, is that it assumes that you, the twistee, are right, and the "twisters" have it all wrong. But if this happens to you frequently enough that you feel compelled to write this sort of blog post, I can't help but suspect that things may be the other way around.

Reframing this sort of concern about the growing social costs of routine moral failings helps with this because it recognizes the possibility that the author is not really a smarter person, with greater moral insight, than those that criticize her.


I often find myself frustrated when an important decision is made with little explanation in politics or business by someone who I assume is intelligent. It may strike me as a bad decision, but I try to be charitable and assume they have a good reason. I've thought that they often don't offer good explanations because they feel too busy to take the time to communicate, they're just not good at communicating or they don't recognize its importance.

This post suggests they could also have a better perception of the possible risks that even effective communication could entail than I do.


The potentially extreme consequences of voicing one's opinions today (with every utterance permanent and Earth-visible) is also what creates the extreme nastiness seen in anonymous speech forums like Reddit or voting booths. If people could speak their minds freely, they wouldn't become that different under the cloak of anonymity. Since they can't, people's inherently nasty tendencies build up pressure and explode in anonymous venues rather than safely venting.


I agree with Jessica's perspective. For me, though, there's an open question with how best to balance it with the "luck surface area" concept, especially when starting out. [1]

[1] http://www.codusoperandi.com/posts/increasing-your-luck-surf...


I feel like the world needs to have a deep discounting of either controversy or controversy arising on/within the internet. Merely changing database records does not change reality. The "thing" itself is not the online representation of the thing - unless the "thing" is a purely online object (say, a webpage). If my family member sends me a photo of what looks like my car totaled at an intersection my car may well still be sitting and safe in its parking spot outside my apartment.

The internet is well beyond "peak controversy." On the internet you will find the thesis and antithesis of every statement. People need to laugh it off. So what if an email gets leaked that says something inflammatory? Every person has at least one view that would severely offend at least one other person. Penalizing people for things arising online quickly leads to things like 'thought police'.


Maybe add some discounting statements? The whole article is sort of a discounting statement about what is about to be said, if she does say it. Something like, "I know you might think X, but X is not the case because Y". Head the objection off at the pass.

Please share the truth, it's good medicine.

Maybe you benefitted from this discussion ;)


YC Research project idea: Figuring out how to throw a wrench in the cogs of internet mob mentality and hypersensitivity.

There's a few ways to go about this, and some are beautiful.

One idea would be to create an entire network of fake professional personas, build social media presences for them, and eventually have them say something carefully crafted to both be perfectly defensible yet enough to draw the ire of the internet outrage machine. Then, have them be fake-fired much to the angry mob's satisfaction.

After this goes on for a while, conduct some data analysis, permanently naming and shaming everyone stupid enough to righteously attack and ruin the life of a fictitious persona.

The chilling effect is then reversed: engaging in vicious mob mentality against complete strangers might just earn them a higher ranking on the dumbass list.


The 2.0 version will then be employed by governments to silence dissent by bleeding the energy of movements before they happen.

It's a tool that cuts all ways. There's nothing in a 'positive' social movement - however defined - that makes it less vulnerable to this sort of baiting than a 'negative' one, because it's an exploit on a close-to-universal personality flaw.


>The 2.0 version will then be employed by governments to silence dissent by bleeding the energy of movements before they happen.

Governments are already adept at sabotaging movements if they so desire.

I agree with you though, it's probably not the best idea.


The Black Mirror episode "Hated in the Nation" explores a similar idea.


I watched that episode just now after your mention of it. It was quite good.

At least in my version, the victims are complete fiction. The end result would amount to merely punking half of the internet. Fortunately, it also lacked all the terrible things I can't mention due to spoilers. :)

I've this pet theory which surmises that when you try to effect change, the efficiency of the effort is inversely proportional to any resulting negativity. Thus, anything that garners any negativity at all is probably a bad idea.

Realistically, counteracting mob mentality will come down to boring things like rethinking social media architecture to account for human nature.


This is a symptom of Marshall McLuhan's networked world as "global village": "...the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket." -McLuhan

In a village, there are no secrets. Same online, basically. Anything digital can quickly spread everywhere, far beyond its intended context.

Pre-networking, information dissipated via voice and to an extent via print and the "telephone game" demonstrated how loss formed a natural barrier. Encryption is a temporary obstacle. It contains the secrets until a breach forms which instantly exposes them to the world. And not only is information flowing outward, but reactions are flowing back, see SWATing, doxxing, "leaks", and fake news.

I was initialized impressed, personally at the internet's ability to share information about human intimate relationships at a large scale. This helped mainstream-ize sexual practices, and I personally believe, catalyzed 4th-wave feminism. Lately I'm, personally, impressed at the internet's ability to forcibly interface people of different ages and classes. It sounds good on paper, like "diversity," right? And I think it will turn out well. But in the meantime, we've failed to respect the order created when human interactions and relationships were based in meatspace and incidently more uniform in their ages. Now we have 60-year-olds and 20-year-olds exchanging advice on how to live when they have totally different needs. There are some gains to be had, but also, much confusion to organize. Like Jessica Livingstone, I could say way more about this IRL, but can't share online. In a nutshell, the sudden explosion in age-differences and relationship information is also breaking down certain illusions of power, which were, strictly speaking, false, yet they held society together in a more stable way. Let's hope we have the gift of clarity and the strength to execute it so we don't re-experience feudalism.


One solution: post anonymously, and have a close friends with some powerful social media klout to share it to an audience.

I know it doesn't solve the main problem, but at least you can share your thought without too much negative consequence.



> The problem with this is, the most successful people in an industry tend to have some of the most valuable insights about it. So you lose a lot when they are silenced. And also, if they keep those insights to themselves, it makes the powerful more powerful.

This is obviously a genuine loss for hard-working people trying to gain insights from their role models in order to make a positive impact in their lives.

But at the same time, one can't help but feel a bit of a twisted sense of justice, towards those causing the problems in the first place. From what I've observed, these people typically place themselves in some sort of "victim" class, and actively look for new ways to get offended and twist words that wouldn't have caused anyone any bother, say, 25 years ago. These people are going to miss out big, not just because they are stifling insights from those who could guide them, but because of their limiting mindsets.

This is not to say that there aren't fights worth picking, because sometimes there are. Cases of blatant discrimination do exist in fields that should not have it. And it can be really important to expose these negative patterns. But this is often best done with a tool that we're starting to lose, namely investigative journalism.

But oh boy has the pendulum swung far from that. I've seen interviews with Jessica before, she seems like one of the kindest, most insightful people in the startup community. I've bought and read her book, Founders at Work (highly recommended). If someone like her is worried about sharing insights, at the potential downside of appearing malicious or offensive or what have you... then we are not in a good place.

> I’m horrified at the prospect of the most insightful people in their fields thinking, "That's something I should comment on. Nah, what's the point? Too much downside."

> That's what happens now, and we don't even know how much, because how do you measure the sound of silence?

You can start measuring it on college. There's small things like legendary comedians not willing to perform on campus anymore. And bigger things like professors self-censoring and watering down their curriculums, lest they upset some small-but-vocal group of students. Heck, do we really need Shakespeare anymore? Maybe we can do away with that (e.g. see U of Pennsylvania).

Maybe we'll have a less motivated, more self-centered workforce that are both harder to hire from, and harder to retain. Maybe we'll have less inspiration for the next generation of entrepreneurs, as Jessica points out. At least the internet has documented plenty of good stuff so far.

This is a cultural critique, and you're welcome to disagree. I can't prove that slowed GDP growth over the last decade is related to narcissism, excessive self-esteem, victimhood mentalities, higher divorce, you name it [insert modern social ailment here]. But I do know that societies and cultures that are growing economically typically have less of these social afflictions (maybe they're just too busy).

But if I run with some of the correlations I see, I do see a certain irony: the aggressive progressivism espoused by Silicon Valley may be coming back to bite it. People are getting scared of sharing what they think, because they never push back and maintain standards on what is or isn't a legitimate criticism. I think it's completely analogous to being a shitty parent who doesn't set boundaries on their children - except this is more of a generational thing.

One last thought: seeing the above unfold over the last few years, coupled with the slowing economy (don't let the left's phony numbers fool you) is exactly how I predicted that Trump would have a great shot at becoming the President back in 2015. Seeing his Twitter actually solidified that prediction for me because culturally he "fights back" at the children. The children that so many of us know are ruining things for the rest of us. He may be a big child himself, but that's besides the point.

And now we have this Brave New World to look forward to :)


I'm trying to take this article in good faith, and I find it difficult, for two reasons:

1. The author equivocates online critique and criticism with being 'silenced'.

2. The author thinks it's too risky to share "insights about Silicon Valley" online, but does not think it's too risky to advocate for immunity from critique for the already powerful.

I understand that the message of this post is to have the listener consider how online discourse tends to coalesce into witch hunts, which is totally valid.

The thing is, when I share ideas or controversial takes with my few "trusted friends", I don't expect them to engage me on the surface level without critique or criticism. I expect them to call me out on my shit (and presumably Paul and Jessica have the same expectation). The people I trust the most are the people who can critique me most fairly and most accurately, in good faith.

By reducing all critique of online 'powerful individuals' as attempts to target and silence them, the author I think misses the bigger issue: it's not the act of critiquing that's the problem with online discourse, it's the shape and manner in which it's conducted.


I think your interpretation of the blog post is not what the author had in mind. The problem is that for politically correct matters and other "pre formed" ideas people tend to attack certain ideas solely on the basis that they are against, even if supported by facts, from what the society or the "good thinking" society thinks it is appropriate, auspicable, and so forth. So basically there are arguments for which it is not possible to get a real discussion on the table (or on the internet) but only insults because for certain topics the % of people overreacting is going to be over the signal/noise acceptable ratio. So I can't see any request for immunity here nor she is claiming to be silenced. She is just saying: it is not possible to share useful things because there is a percentage of people not ready to have discussions only using arguments and facts. I totally agree with her.


I think the phrase "politically correct" has lost all meaning. It used to be used as a synonym for "polite" and now, in the US, it seems to be used as a synonym for "ignorant and obstinate".


It's never meant "polite", and the modern use stems from its use in the mid-20th Century as a pejorative for obstinate and ignorant adherence to dogma by American Socialists referring to American Communists who were seen as slavishly following Stalinist orthodoxy.


Strange, I remember people using the phrase in sentences where one would otherwise say "polite", like "that's not the polite term" or "that's not the politically correct term". For example, "Oriental is not the politically correct term, say Asian."


That use does exist, but it's a (popular in the mid-90s, still occasionally encountered) ironic use that derives from the older (and particularly common by the American Right against the Left in the late 1980s and early 1990s, its peak before the current resurgence among the same political faction) use as a pejorative. So, the modern popularity of the older and original pejorative use isn't "losing meaning" from that use...


In those cases, perhaps its use was objectively ironic, but it was not ironic from the speaker's perspective.


While a minority of users may not have ironic intent, usually its use in the context referenced is deliberately ironic; the pejorative use has always been far more common, and it's very unusual for someone using the phrase in any sense not to be aware of that and, if not using it in the pejorative sense, be making a deliberate, usually ironic, reference to that well-known sense when using it in any other way.


I always took it to mean, "attempting to corrupt the language to force a certain point of view", similar to Orwell's Newspeak.

Ignorance and obstinance are symptoms.


That's not what it meant back in the 90s. Certainly not like "war is peace". The phrase was most often used to explain what a person wanted to be described as, like, "Please call me handicapped, not retarded."


Here my definition is: behaviors that start with a good goal and later turn into a set of taboos.


A post about not sharing your opinion because it can be (willfully) misinterpreted gets misinterpreted into "You should not critique people because that silences them, especially not if they're successful".

Is this satire?


Or irony


"Not because the ideas are necessarily controversial in their own right, but because anyone could twist them to seem controversial if they were sufficiently motivated to."

I don't know if you're doing it deliberately, but this is what you're doing.

> The author equivocates online critique and criticism with being 'silenced'.

She uses the word "silenced" exactly once. There is no indication that, for example, she considers "people aren't saying anything because they don't like the tone of their online criticism" to be the same problem as, for example, "people aren't saying anything because they're scared of getting arrested".

If you think she's comparing two things that aren't alike, you need to be more explicit.

> does not think it's too risky to advocate for immunity from critique for the already powerful

She is not in any way doing this. "How do we solve this problem? I don't know, but I hope there is a solution." That is not the same as "clearly, we need to solve this problem by making people immune from criticism".

> reducing all critique of online 'powerful individuals' as attempts to target and silence them

She describes one type of criticism. She does not say that all criticism takes this form.


What a perfect example of the problem described in the post.


>The author equivocates online critique and criticism with being 'silenced'.

Others have addressed the substance of your remarks. Here, I just want to mention as a fellow commenter that equivocates means "to use equivocal language especially with intent to deceive; to avoid committing oneself in what one says." It does not mean to state that one thing is equivalent or leads to another.


Without knowing anything about the author, i would guess she is young.

My reaction after reading:Duh.

Perhaps it's living for decades but stating my opinion I do less and less, especially in person. I think its a product of listening better, getting wiser and not needing to be validated or heard. Only a small handful (one hand) of people I care hear things I have to say. I am totally different than when I was 20's & 30's

It's not that "true things arent being said" it's that I am smarter to simply not say them.


You don't seem to realize the immense amount of knowledge Jessica Livingston has about startups that no one else knows about. That information is obviously hugely valuable for other people, and she'd probably like to share it if she felt it was worth it.


In my day I would ask for an "informational interview" side by side.

Worse thing is she would say "no"

But I would not leave her office and tell anyone about what she said. That would be breaking her trust. If she wanted to tell others she would.

Thanks for the "who is the author" explains its "front pageness"


The point is that she can't post it to the Internet, where anyone could read it without using up her time.


Not that it's particularly relevant, but the author is Jessica Livingston, a founding partner of YC and spouse of Paul Graham. She's 46.


This post contains 3 quotes, two in the article itself and one in a footnote. The first quote is of the author herself, and the other two are from her colleague, cofounder and husband.

This is not the sound of silence; this is echo.


But does it really need to be said? Most utterances are not unique; ideas and insights can be found with a simple Google search. For example, there was a recent screening of "Hidden Figures": http://www.forbes.com/sites/katieelizabeth1/2017/01/10/silic.... Maybe it's what this post refers to, maybe not. But reading similar articles for a year would produce a set of insights about Silicon Valley, just as being at Y Combinator would, and it's not clear that the one set of insights would be any less valuable than the other. YC insights might even be counterproductive, because they're designed for a different situation: http://twocents.lifehacker.com/chasing-habits-of-rich-people... http://nathanbarry.com/ignore/


Your comment is hypocritical. This is to say I'm sure you point is made elsewhere, somewhere. And yet I'm glad you posted it so it can be discussed. Which is to say it's still wrong even when applied to itself (a wrong point).

The point of discussion isn't to create some sort of internet that might one day be studied and determined to contain useful information, the point of discussion is that those who participate can learn and improve. Sometimes this necessitates saying things that have already been said. That's not a problem.

As for the notion that sometimes discussing things with people in significantly different circumstances to yourself might not be the highest value discussion you could have, I agree. However it's still fun, interesting, etc. Better use of time than Netflix, that's for sure.


Well, I was responding to these lines: > the most successful people in an industry tend to have some of the most valuable insights about it. So you lose a lot when they are silenced.

It feels like a weak point. Maybe the best insights are written by professional writers, for example. In such a case there's no loss from industrial self-censorship.

On the other hand, it is true that successful startup founders usually leveraged some deep insight to grow fast and profit. But those insights have been "tapped out", so to speak, therefore are not really useful anymore. They were valuable for the founders but the value is non-transferable.

In my case, I'm writing mostly to become a better writer/communicator, so it doesn't particularly matter if I convey useful/valuable information or if it gets discussed; the aim is to do it clearly in a short amount of time. It's a different calculation for a person with children and a demanding job.




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